The Truth About the Forum: It Is Indeed Theater

The Truth About the Forum:
It Is Indeed Theater
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)

I previously wrote about the candidates “forum” that is apparently being orchestrated by Meier and his cadre.  Again, I’ve touched a nerve, and my analysis is being challenged.  So let’s talk about it.

First and foremost, I am delighted that I have forced these folks into finally admitting that they are providing the questions in advance.  This was always concealed from the public, which caused the public to believe they were watching extemporaneous answers.  That is obviously deceptive.  Congress condemned the practice of providing answers in advance in connection with the infamous quiz shows.  It is equally inappropriate here because it causes people to give undue weight to answers given by candidates, not realizing that they are simply reciting what they prepared and rehearsed in advance.  It misleads the public regarding the knowledge of the speakers, and that clearly matters.

Now these folks argue: Aw heck, these are just ordinary folks! Volunteers!  Golly, how could they know all this stuff??!!  Which, of course, totally misses the point: the public is entitled to candor, not deceit.  If a candidate lacks knowledge, the public is entitled to see that for themselves.  The fact is that presenting rehearsed answers as if they were extemporaneous is entirely deceptive.  And by the way, the fact that these candidates supposedly don’t know which questions they’ll be asked of the 4-5 they submitted doesn’t change any of it.  The format is a sham.

I’ve also pointed out that the public won’t get to ask questions.  I stand by it.  You won’t.  Oh sure, you can “submit” a question on an index card.  But then “someone” will choose which of those questions will be asked.   So, who will the “someone” be, and what criteria will they use to “screen” the questions?  No one knows, but this much is certain: the three non-incumbent candidates won’t have any say at all regarding any of it.  Sound fair or appropriate to you?  It’s not.  The opportunity for manipulation is clear: just make sure the index cards include pre-arranged questions and then lob them up to the candidates whose handlers appear to be behind this event.

You have to wonder: if these folks are truly qualified, why all the theatrics?  Why not just show up and answer the questions the public asks?

Regarding the date: Paul Walden, Jim Duffy and Al Angell weren’t consulted. Their first notice was a March 13, 2016 email announcing the date and format, which began: “As you are aware.”  Well, since they hadn’t been contacted, they were obviously not “aware.”  That’s factual, no “inference” required at all.  But then, the email makes clear that someone was “aware.”  So who was “aware?”  Well, the only folks left are the incumbent candidates, and that makes it pretty darn clear that they were consulted.

Indeed, the exclusion of Walden, Duffy and Angell from every aspect of the planning for this event tells you all you need to know about its true nature, which is an event for the incumbent candidates, not a forum.  But even more telling is the effort to excuse that exclusion.  I mean seriously, the unilaterally-chosen date was all that was available?  In Addison?  Home to a plethora of fine hotels that host meetings and conventions all the time?  Addison is short of meeting space?  Spare me.  What complete nonsense.

If this was a real forum, a legitimate forum, then the availability of all candidates would have been the first and most important consideration.  It wasn’t.  In fact, the availability of the non-incumbent candidates wasn’t a consideration at all.  That speaks volumes about the event and those behind it.

The Ethics Commission makes clear that if all candidates are not provided the same opportunity to appear, it isn’t a “forum,” it is a communication supporting those included.  Not checking the schedules of all the candidates is not, in my view, providing all candidates with the “same opportunity.”  This is particularly true when at least one candidate has a longstanding out-of-town business engagement on the date that was chosen without his input.  And that’s before you ever get to the issue of whether the excluded-from-the-planning non-incumbents agree with the pre-scripted format, and whether forcing that format on them with unknown question “screeners” is truly providing them with the “same opportunity.”

To be clear, I have protested this misleading format for years.  In 2014 I co-authored a letter to the then-sponsors, the Metrocrest Chamber and the Addison Business Association, pointing out the deceptive nature of pre-arranged questions and pre-scripted answers.  I expressed concern that these fine organizations were being used to lend an air of neutrality and legitimacy to what was, in reality, a staged campaign event then being orchestrated by Todd Meier.  In 2015, I wrote again to the Chamber, expressing the same concerns and calling for a true forum that allowed the public to ask questions and that ensured that no candidate received questions in advance.

You will notice that neither the Metrocrest Chamber nor the Addison Business Association is involved in this year’s event.

But the “legitimacy” spin remains.  The claim is that the existence of sponsorship confirms that this is a real event.  But in making this claim, they don’t discuss what these sponsors were – and were not – told about the event.  We have already confirmed that at least one sponsor wasn’t told of the of the exclusion of the non-incumbent candidates from all aspects of the event’s planning, or of the fact that Mr. Walden is out of town, or that Walden, Duffy and Angell didn’t agree to the phony format.  That sponsor was surprised, to say the least.  We suspect that the other sponsors were likewise not given the full story.

The facts do matter – all the facts, that is.  They mattered a lot to the former sponsors who chose to disassociate with this event.

If you choose to attend, see this event for what it is: an orchestrated political event for certain candidates, deceptively packaged as a “forum,” at which they will recite memorized answers to pre-arranged questions.  As for me, I will continue to hope for a true forum, at which all candidates will answer questions posed by the public.